Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Beatles in Spain

When The Beatles performed for the first time in Spain, in Madrid, on 2nd June 1965 only 5,000 people were in Las Ventas bullring to see them. In part that was because The Beatles, with just three LPs on the market, were still largely unknown in the puritanical and isolated Spain of the 1960s. Lots of young people were forbidden to go to the concert by their parents and there were several who, even with tickets, chose not to enter the venue put off by the enormous police presence.

There were police everywhere around the bullring and in all the metro stations. They broke up any group of more than five people and resorted to mounted charges to do so. The reviled “grises”, the grey uniformed armed police, were there to prevent any disturbance on account of the four mop-tops who were the sort of social phenomenon distrusted by the Spanish authorities. Social change was not something that Franco's Spain embraced.

On top of everything the ticket prices were high - the best seats were 400 pesetas and even the cheap seats were 75 pesetas at a time when a trained electrician was earning about 1300 pesetas a month and a towel cost 25 pesetas.

Before their arrival the press had done its best to demonise The Beatles. The Regime and the press received them with open hostility fearing that they would concentrate thousands of youngsters hell bent on upsetting the status quo. But far from worrying about politics John, George, Paul and Ringo had come to Spain for the sun, to hear some flamenco and to visit this exotic land of castanets and bullfights. They were in Spain thanks to the promoter Francisco Bermúdez who arranged the two concerts through Brian Epstein. Epstein argued that the concerts were unlikely to be successful given that, whereas in the UK, The Beatles sold 900,000 copies of each record in Spain they were selling just 3,500. Bermudéz's comeback was that as there were only 1,500 record players in Spain at the time such was the devotion of Spanish fans that 2,000 people had bought records they couldn't even listen to!

Permission for the event was not given until seven days before. Without the permissions it had been impossible for the organisers to arrange publicity or sell tickets. A deciding factor was that the lads had just received their MBEs. Spain worried about a diplomatic incident and the permissions were signed.

The Beatles flew into Madrid, Barajas the day before the concert. Despite intense security some 200 fans turned up to greet them before they were whisked off to the Hotel Fenix in a Cadillac. Later that evening at a press conference the questions were banal at best “Is your hair insured?," asked one journalist. "No," said George.

The next day they stayed in the hotel until concert time. There was no sound check and during the concert the sound quality, partially due to the Spanish made sound equipment, was very poor. The band played just twelve songs in a concert of less than half an hour to the half empty bullring. John wore his newly acquired Cordoban hat throughout the show.

The next day the band moved on to the Hotel Avenida Palace in Barcelona. This time things were more normal for The Beatles, used as they were to working amidst frenzied crowds. They had to be taken out through a service door to avoid the throng of fans. Everything went much better with a capacity 25,000 audience in Barcelona's El Monumental bullring.

Barcelona was the last show of their European tour and the group had a bit of a party in their hotel afterwards. When other guests complained the manager woke the sleeping Brian Epstein. He put on his suit, knocked on the boy's door and told them to go to bed. They did.

It wasn't just Spain that was different in 1965.

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